The Same-Sex Marriage Bill Hitting The Australian Senate Will Force Liberals To Make A Choice

ALP Senator Penny Wong at Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. Photo: Getty/ Brendon Thorne

Australia’s lone Liberal Democrat senator, David Leyonhjelm, is introducing his private members bill on same-sex marriage to the Senate on Wednesday, forcing the hand of Coalition government in deciding whether its MPs will be allowed a conscience vote.

Senator David Leyonhjelm flagged his intentions back in July, saying he wouldn’t introduce the bill until he was confident the Coalition would allow a conscience vote.

Labor Party MPs are permitted a conscience vote on same-sex marriage, however, the Coalition has yet to come to the same position and last year, the federal Government went to the High Court to successfully strike down ACT legislation on same-sex marriage.

The Liberals will face pressure from their own constituents, with a July survey by the party’s pollsters, Crosby Textor, finding record support on the issue, with nearly three-quarters of the population (72%) backing same-sex marriage in a trend that has nearly doubled over the past decade. Majority support appears in every demographic, including older and religious people and those living in regional areas.

Even more, 77% believe Coalition MPs should have a conscience vote and support for the issue could even be a vote winner for the Coalition, with nearly 4 in every 5 swing voters in favour of same-sex marriage and 60% of them saying it’s important to them.

The introduction of the NSW senator’s bill will spark a fresh debate in the Liberal party room over the issue, although that may not occur until 2015, after the summer break, with the matter referred to a parliamentary committee in the meantime.

Senator Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry Bill will change the wording of the Marriage Act from “man and a woman” to “the union of two people”.

At a media conference today, the NSW libertarian senator said that following a dinner meeting discussion with prime minister Tony Abbott, who opposes same same-sex marriage, he decided there was no point in delaying the introduction of the legislation.

“I think that people ought to have the freedom to choose their own path,” Leyonhjelm said.

Last Thursday, NSW Liberal MP Don Harwin revealed he was gay during a speech in the state’s Legislative Council.

“I hope that my many friends who are waiting for the opportunity to marry will not have to wait too much longer for the Commonwealth Parliament to reform the law,” he said

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